The Modern Technosphere: An Exploration of Black Mirror’s 15 Million Credits
Saurish Srivastava / March 15, 2022
3 min read • –––
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is often heralded as an enlightening and striking visual depiction of a dystopian future – one that will originate if humanity does not interrogate its growing reliance on the techno-verse. However, the hypotheticals presented in S1E2: “Fifteen Million Merits” convey more about a current hyperreality – a digital economy that forges a “fake” affect into dividual (patterns and profiles of digitalized information) relationships through social media – as opposed to an imminent future.
In “15 Million Credits”, characters “pay their dues” by engaging in endless physical labor on a cycling machine, where they gain credits, the currency of this dystopia, directly proportional to the amount of time and kinetic energy spent playing games and watching sponsored programs. From morning to night, characters are inculcated with a prototypical “rags-to-riches” that convinces them to make it to Hot Shot, similar to America’s Got Talent, and find their way out of their gruesome positions as laborers. This gamification of life forwards a society dependent on currency solely dependent on attention – to reach the top of society, one must place their attention in their game or program, and nothing else. All relationships, friendships are co-opted; all “good” acts are co-opted; all resistance movements are co-opted. This co-option is notably demonstrated by the main character, Bing, and his desire to “feel” something real with a woman, Abi. Bing donates 15 million credits for Abi to perform her talent for singing on Hot Shot, and she abandons him for an offer given by the robotic “judges” to join the pornography industry, an intent she did not have, but a choice she still makes. Given the episode’s portrayal of the characters, and most notably the judges, with faces of “processing” rather than “feeling,” this episode renders a society void of personhood.
Black Mirror is a socio-political commentary on the contemporary era marked by hyper technology, the rise of technopolitical fascism, and digital economies. The digital platform becomes the sole means of defining one’s image, as identity becomes utterly tied to the vagaries of how one is portrayed through social media. Just as with Bing, friendships and relationships are dominated by meaningless attachments to social platforms, where some people might be friends with others to attract follower gain or to maintain their digital presence. The capacity to “feel” is controlled, or at least filtered, by the digital economy. This phenomenon exists within most of the younger generation. In this way, the technosphere has infiltrated the social domain and instilled an unhealthy reliance on itself – i.e., the way users can feel anxiety and anger if their phone is taken away from them. This infiltration represents the greatest threat to society now – one that demonstrates the hyperreal “dividual” friendships and relationships forged by the digital economy. However, through this reading of Black Mirror, specifically “15 Million Credits”, we can mirror and deeply interrogate contemporary society, sparking the potential for change. Only through knowledge and deliberation can we liberate ourselves from this current and immediate dystopia.